Responding to British millennials on the Israel-Hamas conflict

Last Friday, I met with a small group of millennials from the UK to show them around Sderot. I told them about the conflict between Israel and Hamas and shared with them my own perspective. They asked questions and I tried to answer them to the best of my knowledge and ability. One of them had some very good and tough questions, some of which were based on false assumptions or partial information. I answered and added that I do not expect him or anyone in the group to accept my answers as I presented them, and asked them to do their research and to find out the facts and truths and make their own choices on the matter. In this article I will try to recount to the best of my ability the questions and the answers I gave. Perhaps it might enlighten someone else who has similar questions or holds similar assumptions.

Ask and you shall find (photo: Matan Vizel/Pixabay)

I heard about people sitting on a sofa and cheering for the bombings

I told him to hold the question for our next stop. The next stop was a hill at the end of Sderot, where you can see Gaza from afar. This was the spot where the famous sofa incident happened. I opened up about it from my perspective, which most of the residents probably share as well. The people who sat there during Operation Protective Edge acted foolishly fora few reasons. First and foremost, they put themselves in harm’s way, sitting so close to the Gaza Strip, on a hill, exposed to rockets and mortars with no shelter nearby. Secondly,they were sitting on the outskirts of Sderot, in a place that looked like somewhere people go to throw away old furniture and garbage. Should something have happened, it would’ve taken a long time for anyone to come and help them. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly,, they didn’t have a clue what they were cheering for.

The reports about the sofa incident were pushed alongside a narrative that Israel supposedly targeted civilians. And people try to make it look like that the people who sat on the sofa and cheered where happy about civilians being killed. But in reality, Israel entered Gaza to fight Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and did its best to avoid harming civilians (more on that later). The people who were there cheering did so under the notion that the IDF is destroying terrorists who have been trying to kill them for 13 years. But since you can’t differentiate between all the sounds of explosions and the sights from afar, you can’t even when it’s an IDF strike or a Hamas strike. So most people wouldn’t cheer when they hear or see those stuff. For example, I remember the night that the armored carrier of Golani soldiers was attacked, , and I remember hearing loud explosions that night. You can’t know what’s going on, and you can’t be sure if one of those explosions you heard was from that incident. So yeah, I understand rooting for the bad guys losing but how can you cheer in such circumstance? You can’t. Most people can’t. And that’s why it was small group of people who made most of the residents angry for the way they acted.

Do you think children “over there” are radical because of life they experience there?

They are radical because it’s easy to radicalize children through brainwashing. In their schools they are taught that Israel has no right to exist. Their TV shows incite to go and kill Jews. When they go on social media they see incitement to carry out different types of attacks. They have video tutorials on how to hide weapons, how to kill. They might see posters of dead terrorists, referred to as “Shaids” (martyrs), maybe have schools or groups named after them. They are aware of the respect and money families of terrorists receive. They hear in mosques that they should kill Jews. In the summer young children and teenagers go to summer camps run by Hamas, where they are indoctrinated to Hamas ideologyand are trained to fight. It’s something that they grow up to, and pick up from everywhere in their environment. People who live and grow up in other places in the world don’t become radical? Even if they live in Europe? I saw a documentary from France about radical people. They live and grow over there. Still they want to become terrorists. Why is that? From what you can see in the documentary it lies on values, culture and world perception. So if that can happen there, how can anyone be surprised that it happens in Gaza when that’s what they learn and hear all the time since they are born?

Gaza has 3 million residents, I heard it’s the most densely populated place in the world

How did you come up with this number? I don’t think it’s that high, from what I know it’s around 2 million people (in 2014 it was estimated to be around 1.8 million). As for being the most densely populated place on earth, that’s not true. I checked it up few months back and there are far more densely populated places in the world (According to Wikipedia, Manilla has the highest population density of 41,515 people per a square kilometer]. This is just another false part of their narrative.

I heard Gaza is an open air prison. And if there is a blockade, how does Gaza get building materials?

Those are 2 points raised really closely. I don’t agree with the terminology of open air prison. It is not a prison. I talked about the times when people from Gaza and Sderot were neighbors. People from Gaza worked in Israel, people from Israel went to Gaza for shopping and restaurants. The “blockade” is fairly new. It was after Hamas took control by force of the Gaza Strip (after fighting with Fatah). Both Israel and Egypt closed their borders with Gaza. It’s not just Israel. Hamas iscausing problems for the governments of people of both sides. If Hamas would lay down its arms things can change. But they don’t as their mandate is to kill all Jews. But that doesn’t mean people from Gaza don’t exit through the Israeli crossings. And it’s not like the “blockade” means that Gaza doesn’t get any shipments. Instead getting shipments through a port of their own they get it through an Israeli port where its checked and then sent to Gaza with trucks (you can find more details from the COGAT website. For example in 2016, 3.8 million tons of construction material entered the Gaza Strip).

How do you think peace can be made?

Firstly, terrorists groups like Hamas should be ousted from power. Hamas wants to murder all the Jews in the world. Their opinions are not secret and they state them loud and clear. Should this happen, there are many suggestions of what could be viable. Letting them form a new government, not necessarily a new state, but they can have an autonomy, or following a suggestion of a known professor to let them form many small emirates with independence from one another. But it doesn’t really matter until Hamas and the other terrorists are removed from power.

Targeting civilians on both sides was despicable and wrong. Do you think the IDF acted proportionally?

Your subtext is that the IDF targeted civilians and killed them on purpose.

1500 people, most of whom were uninvolved were killed, another 700 children.

Your assumptions are wrong and let me tell you why. First of all you need to understand IDF rules and values. There’s a value called Purity of Arms meaning you don’t kill civilians and exploit your weapon for bad things. There are rule of engagement that are meant to make you more careful to not harm people. Those rules are more strict in times and places where things are tense, like in Judea and Samaria (i.e. the West Bank). If you will get to know recent Israeli politics better you will know that one of the many issues is the rules of engagement where many people think that they are too strict and endanger the soldiers. Lack of understanding these basic ethics and rules is why your assumption is wrong. Moreover, close to half of the casualties are known to be terrorists of Hamas and IJ. Many others are suspected to be members.

I also mentioned the fact that the IDF let Gazans know where they are going to strike and where they are coming beforehand (through leaflets, text messages) to let them leave. This also put IDF soldiers in serious danger because everything could be booby-trapped beforehand and by revealing the location in advance, soldiers can be exposed to bombs and snipers. An army that intends to harm civilians would not act that way.

I also discussed how Hamas forces many people to stay in their homes, using them as human shields so the IDF will not strike. IDF pilots used a technique called “knock on the roof,” firing one harmless warning bomb to let everyone still in the building know that it is being targeted and they should evacuate. If people evacuate, or it was already empty,then the pilot will fire a bomb to destroy the building. But if he discerned that there were civilian in there he will not strike. There were few cases where Gazans went on the roof and theIDF pilots aborted the strikes and turned back. An army who acts like this isn’t targeting civilians.

I talked about Hamas misfires (like one well-known instance where they fired a rocket that killed 11 children and then they tried to blame it on Israel and failed). This is a well-known case. How many other cases aren’t known? War is messy to being with, and Hamas added to it by using human shield and dragging the war to populated areas , thus endangering civilians.

We know that Hamas used civilian areas to conduct their fights, and to use as their bases of operations and hideouts. The UN admitted during the operation that they found rockets stored in 3 of their schools in the Gaza Strip. Hamas doesn’t care for Gazan residents.

Military experts concluded that the IDF acted morally during this operation. If the IDF was targeting civilians then their actions would not be considered moral by anyone. I concluded my answer by saying “you guys are from the UK, you heard about Colonel Richard Kemp. Hit him up on tTwitter, ask him what he thinks about Israel actions and if the IDF targeted civilians”.

Afterwards I told them that I do not expect and do not want them to just accept what I say. I prefer for them to actually research the facts and find the truth by themselves and then to form their own opinions. They might not agree with me but that’s okay, at least they couldn’t ignore the facts.

Other things that I wished to have more time to discuss are the Israeli captives in Gaza, among them civilians like Avre Mangisto. They do not have contact to their families, no visits from Red Cross or any international human rights organization and their situation is unknown.

I also wanted to discuss the fact that many Gazans receive treatment by Israeli doctors and Israeli hospitals;that the IDF opened a field hospital to treat Gazans during Operation Protective Edge, a hospital under Hamas fire, and that Hamas tried to stop Gazans from getting their treatment there; and the constant Palestinian rejection of peace, even when they received the conditions that they claimed to want.

About the Author
Dov Trachtman is an Israeli political analyst and cultural critic.
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